Legislation imitation

State Sen. Samuel "Buzz" Thomas paid a fellow Detroit Democrat — state Rep. Steve Tobocman — the sincerest form of legislative flattery two weeks ago by ripping off a bill Tobocman introduced in the House last year and submitting it to the state Senate.

Don't get us wrong. We're not hammering Thomas. We think his goal, like that of Tobocman before him, potentially has much merit.

Senate Bill 1278 would create a Michigan border development and protection authority, an agency regulating border crossings between the state and Canada. If this sounds familiar, that's because Tobocman proposed the same thing back in June 2005. And when we say "same thing," we mean it — the two bills share the exact same language, making it appear that Thomas' office may have just cut and pasted Tobocman's House Bill 4867 onto Senate letterhead. (Efficient lawmaking, that.)

Thomas says lawmakers do this sort of thing all the time to keep an issue alive in Lansing. He introduced the Senate bill after talking with Tobocman, whose own border bill has been stalled since its introduction. Since the two lawmakers represent the same area — southwest Detroit — Thomas decided to reignite the issue.

His action may have worked. Tobocman says that House Commerce Committee Chairman Bill Huizenga (R-Holland) has signaled he's open to scheduling a hearing on the bill.

The proposed authority would oversee crossings between Michigan and Ontario even if the crossing were privately owned. Fifteen political appointees would govern the authority, concentrating on border issues and acting as a conduit between the two countries' governments. The entity would also be the go-to agency for creating any new crossings.

"Its job is to cut through all the red tape with state and federal governments and determine the best course of action," Thomas says.

But isn't the Michigan Department of Transportation already doing many of the things mentioned in the two bills? As reported a few weeks ago ("Battle of the bridge," MT, May 24), MDOT is currently working with the U.S. Highway Administration and the Ontario and Canadian governments to create a new international crossing between Detroit and Windsor. How effective would a new authority be in this already crowded field?

Thomas maintains that an authority consisting of both public officials and private citizens would be more attuned to broader issues, things like a crossing's environmental and social impact. MDOT, he says, mainly focuses on the engineering aspects of border crossings.

"This is more than just a transportation issue," he says. "The governor's office needs to be involved, the Legislature needs to be involved, development groups need to be involved."

We just hope for Thomas' sake that copyright laws don't become involved.

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact the column at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]

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